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Blade, Seneca County attorneys ask Ohio justices to hear records case

Saying attempts at mediation had failed, attorneys for The Blade and Seneca County commissioners yesterday asked the Ohio Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in their dispute over public-records requests.

The newspaper sued the county commissioners in September to force the release of e-mails received, sent, or deleted by the board since Jan. 1, 2006, including those related to the planned demolition of the county's 1884 courthouse.

The Blade contends the county withheld records the newspaper had requested under the state's public records law and illegally destroyed others.

In November, the Supreme Court asked the two sides to try to work out their differences in mediation, but yesterday it became clear that was not successful.

Attorneys for the county commissioners said the mediation talks had reached an impasse, and they'd like to see the case returned to the court's regular docket.

"The case involves very important issues with widespread effects on public offices in Ohio," attorney Mark Troutman wrote. "This case could affect how e-mails are used by county commissioners, school board, and even our courts."

Fritz Byers, attorney for The Blade, also asked that the court take the case back. He said the two sides had "engaged in substantial discussion toward possible settlement," but wrote that talks could go no further because the court's practice is to have court-ordered mediation end in "agreements that are solely between the parties" rather than part of a court entry.

"Such a resolution does not suffice in this case," Mr. Byers wrote. "Settlement through a private agreement, without court approval, provides [The Blade] with less ability to enforce its statutory public-records rights, and those of the public, than [The Blade] has under the statute itself."

While the county commissioners initially provided some e-mails requested by The Blade, the county produced 700 pages of additional e-mails after the newspaper sued. The Blade has asked the Supreme Court to order the commissioners, at their expense, to use computer forensic tools to recover from computer hard drives the e-mails it contends were deleted in violation of the public records law.

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